Okinawa, a collection of fascinating islands that forms Japan’s southernmost reaches, is situated in the warm waters of the East China Sea. Here, visitors are greeted not only by a culture that is totally unique within the country and locals who have a deliciously laidback take on life, but also by any number of pristine beaches and aquatic pursuits that would rival anything the South Pacific has to offer.
Get a glimpse of forever
Book a stay at Hyakuna Garan located in Nanjo, in the south part of Okinawa Island, an easy 35-minute drive from the city of Naha. The serene surroundings of this five-star boutique hotel are replenish the soul, while the views out to sea as the sun sets are stunning. Make sure you indulge in an open-air bath in the evening during your stay, where you can lie under a blanket of stars and listen to the sound of the waves breaking on the beach below, like you are the only person on earth.
Reach for the stars
Taketomi Island, just 10 minutes by ferry from Ishigaki Island, is a real slice of heaven: a small, pristine island of wide beaches (head to Kondoi Beach to see for yourself) and a village of narrow laneways laid out between houses built in the traditional Ryukyu style; after all, the islands of Okinawa used to form part of the Ryukyu Kingdom.
One of the most fun things to do here is to head to Kaiji Beach and hunt for its famous star-shaped sand (in actual fact, the remains of miniscule crustaceans). Not exactly a pursuit for the visually challenged, it is said to be good luck if you can manage to find one of the tiny, pointed granules here; prospecting involves pushing your hand into the damp sand and then slowly and carefully sifting through whatever sticks to your palm until you find one of the uniquely shaped grains.
Another great place to find it is at Hoshizuna-no-Hama (Star Sand Beach) on Iriomote Island.
What lies beneath
There is some fabulous snorkelling to be had in the waters off Okinawa, especially near the islands of Ishigaki and Miyako. The reefs are relatively close to the shore here, so they are quick and easy to access, and you will be rewarded with ample sightings of colourful fish, as well as interesting coral formations.
Through the looking glass
Head out on one of the many glass-bottom boats that ply their trade around the clear, blue waters of Kabiri Bay on Ishigaki Island to get up close to the underwater world without getting wet.